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The Secret To Mind-Blowing Writing: Write Naked

I originally published this post on BlogHer 2 1/2 years ago in the midst of the conflict with my church about my blog. I republished it at the end of last year, and I’m sharing it again today because it is my writing manifesto. Ssometimes I need to remind myself what is the heart and soul of what and why I write.

"I'm naked" cartoon

“Writers fail because they come to the page fully clothed. They adorn themselves with fanciful plots and layer themselves with complicated character development. They use flowery prose and words you have to look up in the dictionary. They do this not to impress their readers, but to keep their readers at arm’s length. They’re afraid. Afraid to bare their souls and inject themselves into their work. For that they are cowards.

“Don’t simply tell me that faith saves you, tell me how it almost failed you, too. Don’t tell me about love, speak of your passion. Don’t tell me you’re hurt, let me see your heart breaking. I don’t want to see your talent on the page, I want to see your blood. Dare to be naked before your readers. Because that is writing, and everything else is worthless crap.”

Quoted with permission from  “Writing Naked” by Billy Coffey.

Before you continue reading, please please please go read his entire post. It’s worth the five minutes. I will wait.

When Billy originally published this post a few years ago, suddenly all the confusion I had about my writing cleared up. What he and his writing instructor said affirmed my gut instinct and fueled the fire in my belly. This was it, exactly.

I won’t lie. Writing naked is difficult. Terrifying. It feels exactly like getting naked in front of people. I often want to crawl back into hiding, or pull a veil over my face and my life.

But I can’t. Something makes me push through my fear. Strip down. Bleed all over my notebooks and computer screen.

Why do I do it? What keeps me going?

You. I don’t write only for me, I write for you.

Billy is right. Writing naked connects with people. And that’s what I want — to connect with you. I want you and I both to know that we are not alone, that we’re in this thing together.

Dozens of men and women battling to overcome depression have emailed to thank me for being willing to tell my story with all the ups and downs.

Grieving parents and family members recognize a kindred spirit (to borrow a phrase from Anne of Green Gables) in posts about the life and death of my daughter, Elli. While each of our losses is unique, we share an I-will-never-be-the-same pain.

The church’s walking wounded often write me to say, “I thought I was the only one they tried to shut down.”

I love thinking and writing about God and the church and Christian life, despite the conservative church’s resistance to women in theology. Women love to think deep too, and the church needs our insight into our faith.

But the same way people can be uncomfortable with real nakedness, some do not appreciate naked writing. I have learned that the backlash can be swift and severe.

One of the scariest posts I’ve ever published was the one in which I wrote a really personal post about defying stereotypes (I eventually edited it to appease someone, something I regret doing) and about the spiritual demolition and reconstruction I’ve undertaken over the past few years. Dozens of people poured out their relief in comments and emails over the fact that someone was willing to put into words what they were experiencing — that I’m not completely sure about my faith.

But I also caught a lot of flak for that post (and others like it, particularly about my questions about faith). Some expressed tremendous concern and discomfort, fearing that my raw posts about doubt could feed someone else’s doubt (is doubt contagious?). Some were offended, thinking that I was putting down those who do fit the stereotypes I reject.

I hear them. I get that they think that writing naked is indecent, improper, possibly even dangerous. I agree that this kind of writing can be hard to read.

Here’s the thing though. No form of communication is perfect. Some forms fit certain people better than others, both writers and readers.

As much as I get where they are coming from, I simply cannot put some clothes on my writing. For me, writing with clothes on is fake and results in garbage. The truth is that life can dump you into a latrine, and let me tell you, when you’re swimming in excrement, Mrs. Sunshine chirping cliches and pretending all is fine doesn’t help. You need someone who has been there and survived, who knows how you can get out and get cleaned up. That is both hope and help.

I refuse to be fake with you. One of my core values as a writer and as a person is to pursue being genuine, honest, authentic. I cannot do other than write naked, come what may. If you don’t like it, that’s okay. You’re free to read or write what best fits you.

I will not compromise my integrity as a person or as a writer to please those who prefer pat answers, religious jargon, uniformity, and God in a nice neat box that they can control.

 

Have you ever tried to write naked? How did people respond? 

 

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Comments

  1. Dear Joy,
    I try, to the best of my ability, to share my many shortcomings, insecurities, and failings with my readers. Since I don’t get a lot of comments on my blog, it makes it difficult to get a clear picture of the readers’ reactions. I don’t think it would change things much, because I felt led to share my very human nature with others. Hopefully, this helps them see what an amazing positive impact God can have on the life of one sinful human being. Debra Seiling http://bible-passages.blogspot.com and http://christian-overeaters.blogspot.com
    Debra Seiling recently posted..All Too Often I’m a "Luke-warm Christian"My Profile

    • Joy, I thought that readers comments wouldn’t change what I wrote, but I have since thought of several times were it has, and I wanted to correct my original comment. A blogger friend with a different perspective of salvation, used to comment frequently on my blog. I found, probably because of our blogger friendship, that I would minimize my own view of salvation in order to not be offensive to hers. There was another time, when I was writing Bible Passages That Can Influence Your Life and a friend called me on a particular entry in the book, which I have since changed. I had tried to minimize a particular passage in the Bible to not be offensive to some. She reminded me that it says to not change what it says in the Bible one tittle…which was a very eye-opening experience for me, although I’m tempted to do it from time to time. I was trying to please people and not offend them, more than I was trying to accurately share God’s will for man, as expressed in the Bible. I hadn’t thought of these two experiences when I wrote the original comment and felt I needed to be honest about this. Debbie Seiling
      Debra Seiling recently posted..God Is There Loving Me When I Find it Difficult to Love Myself…My Profile

  2. Thank you for having the courage to write “naked”. You inspire me to do the same. Hope you and yours have a blessed Christmas
    Mari recently posted..God WhispersMy Profile

  3. Thank you for this lovely post, Joy. I have learnt a lot from this.

  4. Joy…

    I lurk because my time is so limited, but introduced myself months ago to say what a relief your thoughts are to me. I clicked through to your post about being different, the revised one, and honey, you know this already I’m sure, but you are not alone! While I have not been through the censorship you experienced through church (per your latest post + links), in large part I censored myself to avoid the fallout that may have followed. Except that for me, because I’m like you and don’t do well with compromise, censoring = silence. I’m still working on rebuilding my blog content and readership (gotta write first, though!) and this was an amazingly thought-provoking post for me. Thank you!

  5. Yes I did. I kept a blog for 2 and a half years in which I shared my thoughts on faith, on doubt, on my desire to love God deeper, to feel his love for me on a tangible level. I wrote about being autistic, about depression and anxiety, about my fear of death and dying and my worries that I was too much like the unstable people that kept being reported on the news. I’ve been naked. Most of the time my posts would fly under the radar, things I wrote that felt much like bleeding barely got any notice. Comments that I would receive were mostly argumentative.
    It was during the worst emotional crash that I’ve experienced in years which happened last week that I deleted my blog. It’s gone, I can’t get it back. I am both relieved and heartbroken about this. I waiver between wanting to and not wanting to start over. Mostly I worry that I did more harm than good.

Trackbacks

  1. […] As much as I get where they are coming from, I simply cannot put some clothes on my writing. For me, writing with clothes on is fake and results in garbage. The truth is that life can dump you into a latrine, and let me tell you, when you’re swimming in excrement, Mrs. Sunshine chirping cliches and pretending all is fine doesn’t help. You need someone who has been there and survived, who knows how you can get out and get cleaned up. That is both hope and help…  On writing nakedly […]

  2. […] call “Life: Unmasked” on Wednesdays for over a year now, in an effort to encourage you and I to stop pretending and be real… to write naked. A few brave souls link up each week, sharing the always complicated, never perfect, often messy […]

  3. […] friend Joy wrote an amazing post about writing naked. I love her words. I love how raw and honest and gutsy they are. Not just the words in that piece, […]